Advent blog: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

23rd December 2013

This advent blog comes from Museum friend, Nick Pemberton

Irving Berlin’s perennial Christmas favourite ‘White Christmas’ was first sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It remains the best selling single of all-time and is also the most re-recorded song ever.

This article is about Bing Crosby, who as well as being a renowned crooner, was also a big horse racing fan and a prominent racehorse owner.

Bing Crosby was in fact one of the founding partners of Del Mar racetrack in California, along with the likes of Gary Cooper, Oliver Hardy, Pat O’Brien and Charles S. Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit. Bing Crosby was a close friend of both Charles S. Howard and his son, Lindsay. In partnership with Lindsay Howard, Crosby formed Binglin Stable to race and breed thoroughbreds.

 

Bing Crosby with Dorothy Lamour at Del Mar in 1938.

When Del Mar opened in 1937, Crosby was personally at the gate to greet the racegoers and he also owned the winner of the first ever race there. In 1938 in order to promote the new racetrack, Bing Crosby arranged a match race between the great Seabiscuit and his Binglin stable horse Ligaroti, with $25,000 to the winner. The race attracted a huge amount of publicity for the track and was influential in putting Del Mar on the horse racing map. In a rough race Ligaroti lost out by only a nose to Seabiscuit.

Later the singer recorded the song ‘Where The Surf Meets The Turf ’ to further advertise Del Mar.

The biggest victory of the Binglin stable was probably with Don Bingo in the prestigious Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in 1943. But overall Bing Crosby did not have much success with his racehorses in America. He often joked about his racing failures as part of his radio appearances; ‘Crosby's horse finally came in’ became a running gag. The joke was made more famous in a Warner Bros. cartoon from 1944 called ‘The Old Grey Hare’ in which Elmer Fudd is transported to the year 2000 where he picks up a newspaper with the sporting headline ‘Bing Crosby's Horse Hasn't Come In Yet!’

Despite his rather mediocre record as an owner, Bing Crosby did much for horse racing in the US, particularly in California. He was also a stockholder in the Santa Anita racetrack, which had opened in 1934.

The Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes, inaugurated in 1946 and run over 6f at Del Mar, honours the singer.

Across the pond, Bing Crosby was the part owner of Meadow Court who was trained in Ireland by Paddy Prendergast. He was a top class colt and finished second, beaten only by Sea-Bird in the 1965 Derby. Following on from Epsom Meadow Court won the Irish Sweeps Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, both times ridden by Lester Piggott. After the Irish Derby victory, race fans were treated to Crosby's impromptu singing of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ in the winner’s enclosure.

Meadow Court would finish second in the St Leger before running unplaced behind Sea-Bird in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He would prove a failure at stud.

Finally we can thank Bing Crosby for the introduction of the photo finish to horse racing. The very first photo finish camera was installed at Del Mar in 1937. Crosby was part of Paramount Studios at the time and it was there that he was introduced to Lorenzo Del Riccio who worked in the photo lab at Paramount. He enlisted Del Riccio’s help in figuring out a way to use photography to capture not just the winner of the race but of all those runners that would pass under the wire. After much experimentation, Lorenzo Del Riccio arrived at a solution that became the photo finish camera. Within a few years, every major racetrack in the America adopted this technology.

So with that readers, I will finish by saying happy Christmas to you all - may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.